Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Birthday Gift

Monday, August 20th, was my dad's birthday.  He would have been 78.  I've missed him every day since he's been gone.

Sunday afternoon service at my church was being said again in memory of my dad.  And once again, my daughter, Colleen, and I were on the docket to read at church.  (God, you are killin' me!  It's just getting spooky.)  So, as a few weeks ago, I was faced with reading the general intercessions, trying my best to get through - without a total breakdown - asking the congregation to pray for the repose of the soul of Joseph McGonagle.

Thankfully, Colleen, in her infinite sweetness, suggested she could read them instead.  Whew...crisis averted.

Just as her offer blessed me, the blessings at Mass abounded. There was a visiting celebrant, and as I awaited the Word during his homily, I wondered what message there would be on this Sunday before my dad's special day.  I had been praying that God care especially for me and my family during this time.

The visiting priest began by introducing himself and where he was from.
The organization?
The Josephite Missionaries.
Their main goal?
Education and evangelization.

Drew looked over at me, and we just started cracking up.  The Josephite Missionaries?  My dad was Joseph.  Education and evangelization?  My dad devoted his entire life to these two pursuits.  The last little irony?  The Josephite Missionaries concentrate mainly on helping advance the African American community in their spiritual endeavors and work mainly in the Southern United States.  (Of course, he mentioned Alabama as Drew and I glanced at each other again.) 

The funny connection about Daddy and the African American community is that he was a guest homilist for years at an all African American Catholic Church in Alabama and later became their parish administrator.  For those of you not from the deep south, this was a very unusual arrangement but was perfect for all parties involved. Daddy often commented that he felt more comfortable at that church than many others in our community.

Oh, Daddy, you are so cute...

Scripturally, the Psalm sung was one of the songs my family had sung to Daddy in his final days.
"Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." 
I can still hear my sister, Theresa, singing with total abandon. That moment, watching and listening to her, was one of the most special moments to me of that time together.

The Gospel reading was from John.  (Incidentally, John was Daddy's favorite of the gospel books.)  It read:

Jesus said to the crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."

(John 6:51-58)

My heart was so grateful hearing that.  Daddy ate of that bread daily.

The final blessing?  My friend, Tim Clark, who is the chairman for the Movement for a Better World organization that I help at church, came up and gave me a hug at the end of Mass.  He was the one who had requested the Mass in honor of my dad. 

In his hand?  A donation basket in a very familiar shape...

Tim and Donna collecting for the hearts of the poor...

The woman standing with Tim here is Donna, my partner in MFABW.  She had hugged me at the end of Mass and handed me a card.  (She lost her mother to Alzheimer's last year.)  I exited the church after I snapped the heart basket picture and opened the card.  The message?
"Sympathy is many hearts sharing one sorrow."
Oh, Daddy, for years I struggled over what to give you for your birthday.
A tie?
A plant?
A book?
Something homemade?
Nothing ever seemed good enough.
There were years I was very happy with the present I gave.
Others not as much.
But never in my 43 years did I imagine that I would be the one to receive
a precious gift - just for me - on your special day.
I love you, Daddy...

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